There are many places to start your search for a home. While we favor browsing through beautiful real estate photos -- if you haven't noticed -- there are many other factors to consider when buying a house besides curb appeal: How are the schools in a given area? How has the land value shifted in recent years? What's the weather in your new neighborhood going to be? Most existing real estate sites can offer insight, but the new Homes section of "research engine" FindTheBest.com is aiming to knock all former home search data sets out of the park.
For starters, the site lists just about every home in the country. That's 105 million for sale, foreclosed, and off-the-market properties across the U.S. Then it draws from a proprietary database of local information to include additional details with each listing, such as how good (or bad) the schools are nearby, what the weather conditions are typically like, who your neighbors are (demographically speaking), and other specs on "what it's really like to live in a home," Find The Best's marketing lead, Hillary Foss, explains.
But bells and whistles aside, in a tight environment, where homes are selling in 15 days in some markets, what's going to set any real estate site apart is the currency of the listings, says Walter Molony, Economic Issues Media Manager for the National Association of Realtors. The organizations's own site, Realtor.com, is the only one updated in real time he adds.
No matter where you start (and no matter how pretty the pictures), however, step number two in your house hunt should be to connect with a real estate agent in real life. "People want [to seek out] a professional to put what they learned online into context for them," Molony says, noting that buyers' willingness to purchase homes "as is" and without proper inspections was a contributing factor in the nation's infamous real estate flop.
"Consumers need to understand what the data means," says housing/real estate analyst Dani Babb. While aggregation sites like FindTheBest give home seekers an advantage that they didn't have when they had to rely exclusively on real estate agents for information -- many of whom are limited in expertise to a specific area, tract or home, Babb notes -- one of their biggest drawbacks is the room they leave for data to be misinterpreted. One of consumers' biggest missteps "is in the interpretation of data, not so much the data itself," Babb says. "That’s why agents are still essential."
Another common mistake homebuyers make when looking for a house online? "Using too restrictive of a price," says Babb. "If someone wants to pay $300,000 for a home, they often will use that as their max, forgetting that the home selling for $330K may well be purchased for $300K. Expanding the asking price search is valuable."
Check out more of FindTheBest's new house hunting tools at findthebest.com/category/Homes
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